The Soapbox: On your deathbed, you will not regret gaming

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In last week's edition of The Soapbox, Mike Foster reminded us that the grim specter of death comes to us all and asserted that when your time comes, "you will not wish you had spent more time gaming." Mike took the stance that gaming provides temporary joys that can't replace real-life experiences and that it's our inherent responsibility as human beings with finite lifespans to seek out those experiences. He argued that "gaming is a hobby and not a replacement for a life well-lived" and that it's not our gaming achievements but our real life ones that we'll proudly tell our grandchildren.

I think we can all agree that it's important to have offline hobbies and interests that help you keep active, but I take exception to the notion that we might regret time spent gaming on our deathbeds. Published data on the top five regrets of the dying actually seems to directly refute this idea, and my life experiences have shown the exact opposite of some of the points Mike makes. MMOs have given me some experiences that I'll probably treasure for a lifetime, and gaming as a hobby has provided me with much more than just temporary joys and escapism; it's helped me discover talents I didn't know I possessed, given me the push I needed to get a good education, led me to employment, and put me in contact with lifelong friends. On my deathbed, I'll probably wish I'd spent more time gaming rather than less.

In this opinion piece, I look at evidence that suggests we won't regret gaming on our deathbeds and make the case that gaming can be just as worthwhile as offline pursuits.

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Top five regrets of the dying

The core assertion of Mike's article was that on your deathbed, you wouldn't wish you'd spent more time gaming. It turns out that there's actually been some research in this field; as morbid as it sounds, hospice workers have been collecting information on the retrospective regrets of elderly patients in their care at the end of their lives. At around the two and a half minute mark in the TED video below, game designer Jane McGonigal runs through the five most commonly cited regrets. Wasting time on entertainment wasn't even on the list; in fact, setting aside more time for entertainment could eliminate some of these regrets entirely:

  • "I wish I hadn't worked so hard"

  • "I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends"

  • "I wish I had let myself be happier"

  • "I wish I'd had the courage to express my true self"

  • "I wish I had lived a life true to my dreams instead of what others expected of me."

The internet has given us the tools to stay in touch with friends who have moved too far away to visit or have real-life commitments that limit free time, but online games and MMOs give us activities to do together. Gaming can even help counteract the fourth and fifth items on the list by allowing people to express themselves and take charge of part of their lives even if their real life circumstances don't normally let them do that. The inescapable conclusion is that you actually might wish you'd spent more time gaming on your deathbed.

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Games aren't a waste of time

People have been arguing that gaming is a waste of time that should be spent in real-life activities since before I was born, and that may have been true back in the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System and Commodore Amiga. But the past few decades have seen gaming transformed from a niche hobby and timesink into a core part of the culture in developed countries that involves practically everyone in one way or another. Playing and talking to other people about games are now as normal in social interaction as chatting about TV, having a night out on the town, or going to see the latest blockbuster film.

The video games industry is now bigger business than the film industry, and it's still growing, making professions like game designer and games journalist realistic options for those with enough gaming experience and the relevant talents. Five or ten years ago, people would also have laughed if you told them you could live off the proceeds from livestreaming games, playing competitively, or writing guides, but there are plenty of people today who do just that. Those people are obviously the exception rather than the rule, but they show that we can't always dismiss the hours we spend gaming as wasted time sunk into a temporary fantasy. The world is changing, and your level of gaming experience could become a valuable commodity some day.

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My own personal story of gaming

Far from being a waste of time, gaming (and online gaming in particular) has been a driving force behind my life. Writing guides about EVE Online helped me discover and develop talents for technical writing and editing, and an ability to make complex ideas accessible to a wider audience. That eventually led me to being published in magazines and hired to write for Massively, none of which would have happened if I didn't play EVE Online so obsessively at the time. My lifelong love of gaming even spurred me to go university, get a masters degree in Computer Science, and start my own independent game development studio.

Mike was right in his article when he said no game can replace "the feeling of sitting on a porch with friends and grilling enormous piles of meat" or "making eye contact with that guy or girl across the room," but those aren't exclusively non-gaming activities. I met all of my real life friends through gaming groups, LAN parties, and conventions and so have shared moments like those mentioned above because of this hobby rather than in spite of it. The only difference is that when we grill enormous piles of meat out on the porch, we chat about how DUST 514missed the mark and why Diablo III's auction house screwed up the game. And I don't think I'm a special case; I think culture is changing and gaming is increasingly becoming something social that brings people together in real life.

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The main point in Mike's article is something that I think we can all agree on: that life is vast and full of worthwhile experiences that computer games just can't offer. It's important to find activities you can enjoy away from the computer and step outside your comfort zone now and then. But increasingly, life is also full of experiences that only gaming can offer. The joys of putting together a LAN party with your closest friends or meeting up with your MMO guildmates at a convention are no less enduring or worthwhile than those of camping in the woods or running a marathon.

Raiding in World of Warcraft and running PvP fleets in EVE Online have brought me closer to my real-life friends and given me experiences that I'll probably treasure for a lifetime. As more MMOs close their doors or make old content obsolete, we may actually find ourselves regretting not playing them more in their heydays with our friends in tow. I already regret not raiding in World of Warcraft's Burning Crusade expansion for this exact reason because it's an experience that no longer exists. We probably won't be telling our grandchildren about the time we killed the Lich King, but in the long run I doubt many of us will look back on all that time spent gaming as misspent. I know I certainly won't.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers every Tuesday as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews and not necessarily shared by Massively as a whole. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!